Viva Colombia: Huertas, Montoya, Munoz contribute to nation’s great sports day (VIDEO)

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Verizon IndyCar Series rookie and Bogota, Colombia native Carlos Munoz is proud of where he’s from. That said, he doesn’t mind being away from home for the time being.

“I think right now we’re really lucky to be here in America, not in Colombia,” he said after finishing third behind fellow Colombians Carlos Huertas and Juan Pablo Montoya in today’s Race 1 of the Shell/Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston. “I think right now Colombia, [it would] be really crazy to go out in the streets and celebrate.”

The Andretti Autosport youngster probably has a point. In addition to the occurrence of the first all-Colombian podium in Indy-car history, the Colombian national soccer team advanced to the World Cup quarterfinals today with a 2-0 win over Uruguay.

Party time in Bogota.

“Obviously the football – as you guys say it, soccer – is huge in Colombia, and I was there last week for every game,” said Huertas, who earned his inaugural Verizon IndyCar Series win today. “And every time the game starts, like the whole country stops. People don’t even work.

“My win is just a little bit [of the celebration]. I hope they’re happy, and the people that watched it back home, my girlfriend, my friends, my family, my mom was sitting there watching it, I hope they’re very happy, because it means a lot to me.”

The all-Colombian podium can also be interpreted as a sign of just how much influence Montoya has had over the years.

In post-race, Montoya recalled looking up to Colombian F1 and IndyCar racer Roberto Guerrero when he was young. And in turn, Huertas and Munoz looked up to Montoya as he left his own mark around the world in CART, F1, and NASCAR.

“When I went up, karting and racing in Colombia was there and a couple people tried it,” said Montoya. “But nobody ever thought you could make a career out of this.”

Munoz was lucky enough to have some contact with Montoya when he was in karting.

“He’s always been an example for me and also for a lot of drivers growing up…It was nice to have when I was small as an example, and right now competing against him at the track, he’s very good,” he said.

Huertas also noted his appreciation for what Montoya’s done. But he stressed that on the track, it’s all business – and no deference to childhood heroes.

“I have huge respect for him, and to beat him shows that I’ve done a good job,” he said. “But my objective is to beat all the drivers, and I treat them all the same. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be the same feeling.”

Position of F1 start lights altered to compensate for safety halo

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — The position of start lights will be altered on Formula One tracks this season, in a bid to ensure the drivers’ line of vision is not impeded by the controversial halo protection device.

The halo is a titanium structure introduced this year in a bid to ramp up driver safety, forming a ring around the cockpit top. It is designed to protect the drivers’ head from loose debris and offer better safety during eventual collisions.

Although drivers largely understand the need for it, very few like it. They are worried it impedes visibility, it looks ugly and also that fans will no longer be able to identify a driver properly from his race helmet. Drivers also take longer to climb in and out of their cars.

Formula One’s governing body has addressed concerns and asked every circuit “to make the lights at a standard height above the track,” FIA race director Charlie Whiting said.

“Pole position seems to be the worst case scenario with the halo,” Whiting added at the season-opening Australian GP. “Maybe the driver can’t quite see the lights, or see only half of them, and he might have to move his head too much.”

The new start lights were positioned lower for Friday’s first two practice sessions at Albert Park. Drivers were also allowed the rare chance to rehearse grid starts at the end of both sessions.

“We haven’t normally allowed practice starts on the grid here because it’s quite a tight timetable,” Whiting said. “What I thought would be a good idea was to give the driver sight of those lights, rather than for the first time on Sunday evening.”

A repeat set of lights has been moved from its usual position halfway up the grid to a more convenient position to the left.

“Those repeat lights were normally halfway up the grid, and they were fitted round about 2009, when the rear wings became higher on the cars,” Whiting said. “But now the wings have been lowered, there’s no need for those halfway up the grid.”